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Congress prohibited budget cuts to Hawaii public education in its multibillion-dollar pandemic stimulus bills, making illegal the governor and school superintendent’s plans to slash millions from public school budgets next school year and lay off more than 1,000 school employees, the Hawaii State Teachers Association revealed at a news conference Tuesday.

In essence, federal law says Hawaii needs to fund education, retain its teachers and other DOE employees, and pay them at least at their current salary rate,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee told reporters.

Congress included key language in its coronavirus stimulus bills that requires the state to fund education at the same proportional rate as the state had in the three previous fiscal years before COVID-19 hit. Another portion of the bill, Section 315, further says that local education agencies also “shall, to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”

“The state is not living up to these stimulus provisions. Next school year, the Hawaii Department of Education will take the largest financial hit of any state department, with nearly a $400 million dollar loss. The current projection could lead to more than 1,000 teachers and possibly 1,800 school employees in total losing their jobs,” Rosenlee said.

Attorney Colleen Hanabusa, a former Hawaii congresswoman and former state Senate president, analyzed the congressional spending bills for HSTA and addressed reporters at Tuesday’s news conference.

Hanabusa said members of Congress wanted “to ensure that the next generation of leaders, the keiki, the students do not fall behind. And that is why there is this requirement that in order to get the stimulus funds or CAREs Act funds, the government of Hawaii, the governor, and the superintendent had to concur in their certificate of agreement, that they are very well aware of these two provisions and their commitment to uphold them.”

The HSTA is highlighting this issue now so that Gov. David Ige can make the needed changes to his budget and the Board of Education and Hawaii Department of Education will modify their use of stimulus funding to abide by the stimulus bill’s provisions.

On Thursday, the Board of Education will vote on the Department of Education’s request detailing how it plans to use $183 million in stimulus funding for schools. 

Read Rosenlee's written BOE testimony.

“HSTA does not support the DOE’s proposed use of $63 million of that total —  ⅓ of all stimulus funding — for private tutors and summer school, while at the same time firing teachers and other school staff.  Hiring private tutors is a luxury we cannot afford right now, especially as the state contemplates firing more than 1,000 educators. HSTA will ask that the BOE modify the DOE request to follow federal law and to make sure next year our keiki have teachers and other staff so important to their well being,” Rosenlee said.

Governors and education departments in other states, such as Wisconsin and Connecticut, have prohibited school districts from reducing salaries or laying off school staff if they accepted federal stimulus money for public schools.